Keep It Clean

03:00PM Jul 15, 2019
Cover crops
Safeguard your cover crop by eliminating weeds, chaff and dirt.
( Lindsey Benne )

You might be scrambling this summer to find sufficient cover-crop seed because of an ongoing tight supply of many key species. In your haste, don’t end up using a less-than-ideal seed product. You can prevent this from happening by considering the following practices to safeguard the quality of your cover crop.

No Weeds, Please

Anna Morrow, Midwest Cover Crops Council program manager, says the most important step you can take is to plant clean cover-crop seed.

Noah Young, head mixer at Green Cover Seed, Bladen, Neb., says the company’s top priority when cleaning seed is to eliminate any weeds. This will prevent the possibility of planting seed contaminated with noxious weeds, such as Palmer amaranth.

“A lot of weeds harvested with a crop are actually fairly easy to clean out,” Young notes. “But if you are purchasing seed directly from the field [and then planting it] you are importing all of the weeds that were harvested with the crop and planting them in your field.”

That issue has the potential to be more of a problem this year than in most because many farmers are moving quickly to get a cover crop established on their prevented plant acres, some of which have sat barren this season until now.

If you’re looking to keep expenses to a minimum by using bin-run seed, consider it also needs to be cleaned prior to planting.

“Bin-run crops are often full of junk that can plug up a drill really easily,” Young notes. “By cleaning the seed over a screen you can make sure everything is sized correctly and won’t plug up a drill.”

Don’t Break The Law

If you plan to use bin-run seed from your neighbor, you could be breaking the law. With some species of cover crops Young says Plant Variety Protection Act regulations are in play and, at the very least, your neighbor will need to verify he cleaned the seed prior to any transaction.

“Clean seed should always be tested in order to legally be sold,” Young notes. “Usually, dirty seed has lower purity because there’s more inert matter than in clean seed.”

If you need someone to clean cover-crop seed, call your local retailer. Some now offer seed-cleaning services.

Whether you buy seed from a dealer or use bin-run seed, make sure you know the germination rate. That could mean you have to send the seed to a lab for testing.

In his Boots in the Field podcast, Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie offers some ideas on cover-crop types and seed sources. Listen at